By Rob Murphy, Published September 5, 2013
Even in a digital world, face-to-face interaction provides real business benefits. It helps create personal connections, build trust, and foster engagement. Trade shows are one of the most recognized—and successful—examples of face-to-face interaction because they allow for a brand to connect with a high number of customers and prospects at once. Successful, that is, if you’re meeting with qualified prospects/leads.
So how do you ensure you’re spending time with the right people and disengaging with the wrong ones? Here are a few tips you can use to develop and implement a thorough qualifying process for all booth visitors.
1. Who’s your customer?
Every trade show attracts a spectrum of attendees, but not every single one of them is a target for your business. Recognizing that and understanding the attributes of your ideal customer are critical to ensuring that you channel your valuable time and marketing dollars toward prospects who are likely to result in real business. Narrow down your prospects in three easy steps:
• Build a profile of your ideal customer several months before the show.
• Ask show management for access to lists of registered attendees (that typically provide a breakdown of business category, job title, and purchasing authority).
• Merge the information with your company’s internal sales database to create a master list that will serve as the foundation for all of your pre-show and post-show marketing efforts.
2. Create a buzz.
Now that you’ve identified your top prospects, you need to get them interested in who you are and what you can do to help their businesses. That can be a challenge, since there may be hundreds of other exhibitors vying for their attention during a very short time frame.
To create a buzz and attract prospects to your booth, you have to understand the attendees’ motivation for attending the show. To do this, tap into your sales team for insight into key business issues that your prospects may be facing. Then, combine that knowledge with general challenges confronting the industry you serve.
Create messaging that clearly demonstrates how your company can help them resolve their problems and use multiple communications channels to get the word out. Attendees will give their time in return for something of value—communicating that value is the key to a successful program.
3. Engage with prospects the right way…
Effectively engaging key prospects and customers onsite is another critical step in maximizing event return on investment (ROI). Prepare your staff for the big show with booth engagement training.
• Identify who from your company will be the best representatives for your brand—put them front and center in your booth.
• Offer incentives to maximize staff performance and task them for a specific level of interaction. Practice “prospect hand-offs” so visitors experience a logical and comfortable series of encounters on their quest for information.
• Review responses to anticipated questions about your product or service. Be aware of the weaknesses of competitive offerings to guide conversations in a positive direction.
• Wrap up conversations with booth visitors by thanking them for their time and giving them a small token that will help them remember your company.
• Move on to the next prospect.
4. …and disengage with the wrong prospects – quickly
However, don’t spend time with the tire-kickers. Make sure to train your staff to quickly identify qualified decision-makers with the help of a script; there is no time for casual conversations that don’t lead to some form of business transaction. Of course, if you are looking to build a personal connection with a good prospect, make the time investment.
Your script should also include tips on how to politely disengage with unqualified visitors as quickly as possible. Thank them for stopping by and give them a card to follow up after the show with any questions. If you calculate the cost of every minute you spend at a show, that simple rule of thumb will surely resonate. You need your staff free and able to interact with real prospects with real interest and real decision-making power.
5. Develop a process for data capture
Every name you collect at a trade show can be valuable. Developing an effective process to capture data is essential to qualifying leads for a successful follow-up. While several companies simply swipe the attendees’ badge to collect information, you can capture this data in a more engaging way. For example, you can make the process fun with giveaway drawings or make it educational with an interactive game. Just make sure to collect the vitals—name, position, and contact information—as soon as visitors begin their experience at your booth.
Engagement shouldn’t end when the show does. Always follow-up – especially with your most qualified leads. You can keep it simple, but it must effectively respond to the needs the prospects expressed at the show. Showing prospects that you really listened to their challenges and want to help them find a solution will increase your chances of getting that second meeting and, ultimately, close converting prospects into customers.
Trade shows remain one of the most effective ways to market your brand. But it’s essential to understand who your key targets are—and aren’t. Implementing a well-thought-out engagement strategy will ensure that your sales team maximizes the time they have on the show floor and the overall event ROI.